The letter by Thomas and Allen of Vets for Hunting (printed in various newspapers) will be regarded by many others in the profession with disappointment. Of 20,748 currently on the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons register 530, less than 3 per cent, have signed to say they believe hunting justifiable “entirely on welfare grounds”.

They claim that hunting is “natural” and occurs in a “natural environment” and that there is a “rapid return to normal behaviour”. Hunting by predators of prey species is common, but that of predator by predator far less so – as in foxes by dogs – and the often greatly prolonged chase rare in nature.

Foxes are territorial and often driven from their own territories during a hunt. Earth-stopping, digging out, sending in terriers, dozens of humans on horseback and followers shouting and blowing horns can hardly be described as natural.

When animals are stressed, distressed, injured and exhausted, they attempt to display normal behaviour. Foxes chased out of their own territory, particularly young males, risk being attacked by resident foxes in the (unfamiliar) territory they find themselves should they get away from the pursuing dogs. They thus face a dangerous journey “home” in an exhausted state.

There is anecdotal evidence from the hunters themselves that foxes have died after escaping the chase from over-exhaustion, hypothermia and systems failure.

Hunted animals are under stress when they become aware that they are being hunted and will undergo physiological changes associated with fear. Their body systems will adapt for a while but eventually they will be overtaxed during a long chase and suffer distress.

The hunters themselves have noted that not all survive the chase. Myopathy – muscle damage as a result of a build-up of excess lactic acid – and exhaustion can take their toll long after the chase is over. Who can be sure that a fox that breaks cover from a wood is the same one that entered the wood exhausted?

They say that “hunting makes a vital contribution to the general health and vitality of all four quarry species whereby the weak, the diseased and the injured within the population are detected and dispatched.” So the weak, injured, elderly, diseased and infirm are the ones deliberately targeted to be chased to death: how humane is that? The implication is that if they are fit they will escape – this is not the case.

Hunting only accounts for 2.5 per cent of foxes killed and they can sustain annual losses of up to 70 per cent so hunting with hounds will have little, if any, effect on numbers. It would be better to allow natural selection to be the truly natural way of controlling their numbers.

Fox hunting is neither effective nor natural at controlling fox numbers. It is merely a bloodsport.

John Campbell BVSc MRCVS

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